New UBCO research shows link between hearing loss and a decline in physical activity

Improving seniors health

A new UBCO study examining the link between hearing loss and activity levels has found a link between hearing and healthy aging.

The director of UBC Faculty of Medicine’s Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management and a professor with UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences, Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis is looking for ways to keep seniors healthy.

The researcher team, led by faculty at Johns Hopkins University, wanted to explore the link between physical activity levels and hearing loss in older adults, and whether the use of hearing aids makes a difference.

"If we can determine that link, then health-care providers can better support older adults in maintaining an active lifestyle and researchers can focus on studying the impact of hearing interventions," says Dr. Martin Ginis.

The researchers looked at data from an American National Health and Aging Trends Study, that involved more than 500 participants.

The average age was 79 and participants wore accelerometers for one week and self-reported their vigorous physical activity and walking exercise for one month.

The goal was to investigate the association between physical activity and hearing loss as well as physical activity and hearing aid use.

"We found that older adults with hearing loss did less physical activity than adults who could still hear well. As hearing loss increased, the number of minutes of physical activity performed each day decreased," says Dr. Martin Ginis.

The data showed that those who wore a hearing aid were more likely to report that they walked for exercise compared to those who did not use a hearing aid.

"Think about the places where older adults might go to do physical activity—community centres, public swimming pools, for walks in their neighbourhoods. If their hearing is impaired, it is going to be difficult to interact with fitness leaders or staff in these public spaces, and it may even be frightening or dangerous to move about the community if you can’t hear what is going on around you. These factors will limit a person’s activity levels."

Dr. Martin Ginis says the findings indicate using a hearing aid may help to address the impact of hearing loss on physical activity. "This makes sense. Hearing aid use may alleviate challenges associated with communicating with people in physical activity spaces.

"We hope our findings will encourage seniors to have their hearing checked on a routine basis, and if they are experiencing hearing loss, to use hearing aids," says Dr. Martin Ginis.

The results were published recently in The Journals of Gerontology: Series A.

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